Ideally, a debtor will pay what is owed when it is owed, especially when a court order mandates that payment. However, if the person does not repay that debt, the judgment creditor has a right to issue a writ of garnishment. An important means to ensuring that a debtor pays a debt, the writ of garnishment is issued to a third party, often a bank, by the court. This third party is in possession of assets owned by the judgment debtor. The writ orders the third party to take a particular action toward those assets, generally surrendering them to the court as payment to the judgment creditor. Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. §§ 63.001-.008 (Vernon 1986).
In order to file a Writ of Garnishment, the creditor must have an existing final judgment against the debtor and then must file for the writ in the court which rendered the original judgment against the debtor. It is the third party, the bank or financial institution, which receives the Writ of Garnishment. Tex. R. Civ. P. 659. While the debtor, also known as the judgment defender, is not actually served, Tex. R. Civ. P. 663a mandates that the judgment debtor receive notice that a Writ of Garnishment has been served, “as soon as is practicable following service of the writ” on the garnishee. using the following language:
TO _______, Defendant:
You are hereby notified that certain properties alleged to be owned by you have been garnished. If you claim any rights in such property, you are advised:
"YOU HAVE A RIGHT TO REGAIN POSSESSION OF THE PROPERTY BY FILING A REPLEVY BOND. YOU HAVE A RIGHT TO SEEK TO REGAIN POSSESSION OF THE PROPERTY BY FILING WITH THE COURT A MOTION TO DISSOLVE THIS WRIT."
If the creditor has account names and numbers for the judgment debtor (a strong argument for keeping cancelled checks and account information from customers), then the creditor has a right to garnish many assets, including bank accounts, contents of safety deposit boxes, stock shares, promissory notes, even trust funds if they do not expressly forbid creditors from obtaining the funds. Tex. R. Civ. P. 669.
When a bank receives a Writ of Garnishment, that institution may freeze and even liquidate the debtor’s accounts Newsome v. Charter Bank Colonial, 940 S.W.2d 157 (Tex. App. -- Houston [14th Dist] 1996, no writ); Overton Bank and Trust vs. Painewebber, Inc., 922 S.W.2d 311 (Tex. App. -- Fort Worth, 1996, no writ).
Texas property and labor codes do prohibit assets from garnishment, among them certain real property, worker’s compensation, some retirement benefits, welfare and social security benefits and insurance benefits. A debtor’s wages and commissions also cannot be garnished. However, once the money is deposited, the funds are subject to garnishment. Fitzpatrick v. Leasecomm Corporation, No. 12-07-00487-CV (Tex. App. – Tyler 2008, pet. denied) (mem. op.).
While the judgment debtor loses control of assets once the Writ of Garnishment is served, he or she is not without recourse in the situation. For example, filing a supersedeas bond can suspend execution on the judgment. Tex. R. Civ. P. 657. A judgment debtor also has the right to replevy, or the right to recover, garnished property and its proceeds if the Writ of Garnishment is not filed or enforced correctly. In the case of Strobach v. WesTex Community Credit Union, for example, Strobach was incorrectly identified as the judgment debtor. She sued the credit union for negligence and breach of her account agreement, among other things. Upon appeal, the credit union was found liable for failing to exercise ordinary care when it disbursed funds without verifying that Strobach was in fact the judgment debtor. Strobach v. WesTex Community Credit Union, Case No. 08-17- 00182 (Tex. App – El Paso 2019, mo. reh. filed).
The Writ of Garnishment is a helpful tool for retrieving unpaid debt. If all goes well, the judgment creditor receives the full amount of money owed, paying only attorney’s fees, which tend to be small in these cases. However, writs are not always clear cut and simple. The debtor can move funds, making assets difficult to locate; assets may need to be liquidated to pay off debt; the debtor may be insolvent; determining proper jurisdiction for a writ is sometimes difficult. Working with an experienced attorney is a critical step when dealing with a Writ of Garnishment.
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